Sunday, December 23, 2018

End-of-the-year tidbits

A few items that have been idling in the to-do pile...

Guaraldi's good friend and champion Charles "Chuck" Gompertz died October 2, at the generous age of 83. Vince's fans know Gompertz as the Episcopal priest who chose the pianist to compose and perform the Jazz Mass that honored the completion of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in the spring of 1965. I knew Chuck from the many generous interviews he gave during the research phase of my biography of Vince, and from the warm and friendly correspondence — and occasional visits — that resulted from our initial chats, and continued until he died.

The Marin Independent Journal published an informative obituary, which can be read here.

I wish I had a photo of Vince and Chuck together, but — if such an image existed — the latter never was able to find one for me. So I'll settle for the photo here, which certainly conveys Chuck's friendly warmth. I'll miss him dearly.


On a lighter note, fellow Guaraldi fan Jim Ford called my attention to a delightful, long-ago anecdote involving Vince and bassist Chubby Jackson, which is detailed in this November 2008 post in Bill Crow's Band Room. You'll find it toward the top, in the second paragraph. It's a definite smile.

May your holidays be jolly and backed by numerous re-plays of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas album, and may the New Year bring us ever more exciting developments regarding Dr. Funk.

Monday, December 17, 2018

It ain't necessarily so

This is quite brazen.

Fans of Christmas jazz might be tempted, at first blush, to pick up this MP3 EP collection of tunes by famed West Coast jazz pianist Pete Jolly and equally acclaimed jazz bassist Leroy Vinnegar.

Alas, this “collection” is nothing of the kind.

Some crook concealed behind the bogus identity of “SRI Jazz” has simply lifted six tracks from Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas album, in a few cases supplying sloppy new titles (“Bagatelle No. 25”???). 

On top of which — not that this matters much — the audio quality is dreadful.

This con job is readily available via both Amazon and Google Play ($5.94), and iTunes ($7.74), where you’ll immediately recognize Guaraldi’s work via the brief audio clips. The damn thing also pops up in Spotify, and at least one of the tracks (“The Christmas Song”) has been posted in YouTube by “Label Engine” (where, thankfully, it has been correctly identified by one commenter).

I left a “Buyer beware” review with Amazon, and also contacted them with a strong suggestion that the item be de-listed, as it’s fraudulent; unfortunately, Amazon is notoriously unhelpful (unconcerned?) about such things, so I’m not holding my breath.

SRI has a rather slapdash web site, although — given this example — I’d be wary of purchasing anything from them.

As the Internet constantly proves, there’s no shortage of hustlers hoping to take advantage of the unwary. Caveat emptor!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2018

Thanksgiving arrived early this year, so I'm a few days later than usual, with this annual round-up of the many Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place during the next month, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It has become quite obvious that numerous bands and individuals across the country —- and elsewhere! -- have turned this into a popular tradition. Goodness, some of them even have expanded into Halloween- and Thanksgiving-themed concerts, featuring music from those Peanuts TV specials. High-fives to all of them, for keeping Guaraldi's musical torch aloft! I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition back in 2012, with a modest schedule that now seems quaint. This new post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all late 2018 concerts that come to my attention. As always, I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so you'll want to check back frequently.

Our Canadian neighbors once again can enjoy the return of the season's most historic booking. Drummer Jerry Granelli, who worked as a member of Guaraldi's trio in the 1960s, will headline Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas with his own trio: Simon Fisk (bass) and Chris Gestrin (piano). He began this annual celebration with a few shows in 2013, and the results were quite popular (no surprise there). His appearances were modest last year, but he has bounced back with six gigs this season, starting Saturday, December 1, at Calgary's Central United Church; and concluding Saturday, December 15, at St. Alberg's Arden Theater. Check his web site for details.

As has become a biannual tradition, the most ambitious tour news comes from Concord recording artist David Benoit, who once again is taking his on the road. (He tends to tour with saxman Dave Koz every other year.) Benoit once again will be accompanied by special guest Sara Gazarek. Their schedule kicks off November 27 in Phoenix, Arizona; and concludes December 23 in San Juan Capistrano, California, with stops along the way in Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey and Colorado. We caught Benoit's performance in 2011 and 2015, and I can report that it's a great show. It's also tremendously sweet, since he and his team work with a children's choir that is local to each stop. Check his web site for details.

The Heather Pierson Trio — Pierson on piano; Shawn Nadeau on bass; Craig Bryan on drums — has scheduled a tour of (thus far) 10 shows devoted to A Charlie Brown Christmas. All the shows are in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts: They kick off December 1 in Conway, New Hampshire; and conclude December 21 in Framingham, Massachusetts. Check her web site for details.

The Cartoon Christmas Trio — Jeff Knoettner, piano; Rob Swanson, bass; Jimmy Coleman, drums — doesn't concentrate solely on music from A Charlie Brown Christmas; they also pepper their performances with tunes from other animated holiday shows, such as Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Their album is a kick; give it a listen.) They have several shows scheduled thus far, starting Sunday, December 2, in Milton, Delaware; and concluding Sunday, December 23, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Check their web site for details.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Concerto-izing, Episode 3

We’re long overdue for an update on Nashville-based musician, composer and arranger Dick Tunney's commission to create a Peanuts Concerto that will morph Guaraldi’s most recognizable themes into a symphonic fantasy for solo piano and orchestra.

(You can read about the genesis of this project here and here.)

The delay was prompted by the reality of a musician’s life: the arrival of another project with a tighter timeline that superseded Dick’s efforts on behalf of Guaraldi. Dick had to set Vince aside in order to complete a three-movement piano concerto based on the songs of Burt Bacharach, which dominated his schedule earlier this year. It premiered May 19 with Jeffrey Biegel at the piano: the same gentleman who also will perform the Peanuts Concerto when it premieres — as currently is planned — in March 2019 at Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Dick subsequently dove back into Guaraldi’s oeuvre, and we exchanged several notes during the past summer, as various Peanuts tunes were considered for each of the three movements. Mostly, Dick has wanted to ensure that he gives at least a passing nod to any and all “Guaraldi Peanuts classics.” (And boy, there’s an open question: How deep is the list of “songs that shouldn’t be left behind,” bearing in mind the structural requirements of an orchestral concerto?)

At any rate, Dick just surfaced long enough to report on progress, so I’ll turn the rest of this post over to him:


On October 1, I finished the piano score for the first movement. The creative tightrope that I’ve been walking for these past couple of months is to keep the jazz harmonic structure, as well as the genius of Mr. Guaraldi’s improvisation, and let them co-exist with the symphony instrumentation and classical attitude. This it the third piano concerto whose commission has found my desk, and at this point it has been the biggest challenge. Honoring the legacy of such wonderful jazz piano, juxtaposed with Jeffrey’s astonishing classical gifts, has been a daunting task.  I’ve chosen to include the “Thanksgiving Theme,” “Red Baron” and “Oh, Good Grief” in the opening movement, with a couple of “Linus and Lucy” teasers/fragments just for fun.

The second movement piano score is underway, and I’m tipping the musical cap to Schroeder; this movement will begin with a piece of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, which then morphs nicely into “Happiness Is.” A couple of final song decisions, and hopefully the piano score will be finished in short order. After that, the orchestration.

We’ve chosen to save the “Christmas movement” for last, as the final movement of the concerto. It’s finished, piano and orchestra. All of the Charlie Brown Christmas favorites are present: “Skating,” “Linus and Lucy,” “O Tannenbaum” and “Christmas Time Is Here.”
All in all, I believe that this concerto will become an audience favorite, and will be performed many times beyond its March 2019 premiere.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Another vinyl attack

We're just about to enter the fourth quarter of 2018 — or, as we view it in our household, the increasingly rapid slide into the holiday season — and you know what that means:

More new packaging for vinyl editions of Guaraldi's original album score for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This seems to have become an annual tradition. I have to assume that folks keep snapping them up, or else we'd not be getting more every year.

First up is the Target exclusive, which features the classic cover and LP, and also comes with a "limited edition original art poster." It went on sale September 28.

Not to be outdone, two weeks earlier Barnes & Noble released a much more tempting version, which boasts a cute "limited edition picture disc."

Mind you, I'm not complaining. Anything that keeps the album relevant is cool in my book, and it's great to see that these large chains regard Guaraldi's 1965 album as a hot ticket. It's the best possible way to ensure that his music keeps getting introduced to the ears of new generations of young listeners.

Unfortunately, it still has a long way to go before overtaking the all-time best-selling holiday albums: a list topped by (in order) Elvis Presley, Kenny G, Josh Groban, Now That's What I Call Christmas!, Mannheim Steamroller (twice), Nat King Cole, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Barbra Streisand. Guaraldi does have the best-selling jazz Christmas album (assuming one regards Nat King Cole's release as pop). (And no, Kenny G ain't jazz.)

But who knows? With special annual releases such as these, and the ongoing steady sales of CDs and downloads, Vince may catch up with at least some of the folks on that list...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Treat or trick?

UPDATE 6/16/22: This album has been superseded by a vastly superior 2022 release of this TV special's score; full details can be read in this post. The key takeaway: Buy the 2022 version, not this one!


I've had to keep mum about this, since initially getting involved back in early May. That's when Concord/Craft asked if I'd be willing to write fresh liner notes for an upcoming release of the score for the Peanuts television special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

(As if I'd have declined...!)

The assignment was a delightful excuse to once again probe the evolution of Guaraldi's efforts for the third prime-time Peanuts special, this time adding a few additional details that have come to light since my book was published.

Unfortunately, as has become clear from audio samples posted at the Varese Sarabande website and CraftRecordings' Instagram site, Concord/Craft did not have access to any of Guaraldi's original studio tapes, which we can assume contained takes that were far longer than what was edited into the TV special. (This lends weight to my long-standing fear that such tapes no longer exist.) These samples indicate that this new CD is built from a "baked" music-and-effects track; in other words, this disc's individual tracks will feature music only as it is heard in the animated special, with short edits, fades and some abrupt stops ... along with sound effects. The re-mastering certainly will enhance the audio quality, but there's no question that the listening experience will be compromised by the sound effects "clutter."

By definition, the CD also will be brief. Assuming every single note is included, the 17 tracks will run somewhere between 19 and 20 minutes.

I'll turn the rest of this post over to the Concord/Craft press release:


One of the most sought-after soundtracks in the beloved collection of music from the iconic Peanuts animated TV specials, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, is being made available for the first time ever on Friday, October 5, via Craft Recordings. Featuring music by Grammy Award-winning composer/performer Vince Guaraldi, the CD package includes a new introduction from the TV show's executive producer, Lee Mendelson, along with insightful liner notes by Derrick Bang, Peanuts historian and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano.

It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Music from the Soundtrack) features some of the most iconic tracks in pop culture, including the instantly recognizable "Linus and Lucy," as well as the languid, lyrical "Great Pumpkin Waltz." The music was recorded on October 4, 1966, at Desilu's Gower Street Studio in Hollywood, California, by Guaraldi (piano) and his longtime friends and trio sidemen - bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey - joined by Emanuel Klein (trumpet), John Gray (guitar) and Ronald Lang (woodwinds). The entire scoring process was overseen by composer, arranger and conductor John Scott Trotter, well-known for a three-decade run as Bing Crosby's music director and close friend.

Following the astounding popularity of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip and the first two successful Peanuts television specials -- A Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown's All-Stars -- It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown debuted October 27, 1966, with a phenomenal 49 percent audience share, meaning 49 percent of the people watching television during those 30 minutes had tuned in to see Charlie Brown.

"This is the quintessential Vince Guaraldi for our Peanuts specials ... some of his best atmospheric jazz," Mendelson shares. "Vince's score carries the gang with the autumn leaves, through the scary and cold Halloween night. This music comforts the indomitable faith of Linus, still waiting for his hero since 1966: forever in our ears, hearts and memories."

"Guaraldi had a strong sense of how music could -- and should -- be employed to maximize the viewing audience's emotional response," writes Bang. "[He] emphatically established the Peanuts 'musical personality' with this third outing, and all subsequent prime-time specials owed much to the groovin' atmosphere that is so prevalent in Great Pumpkin. Guaraldi had a gig for life ... and his legacy lives on, expand[ing] by the year, thanks in great part to the jazz swagger given to an insecure blockhead and his lovably crazy beagle."

Track listing:

1. Linus and Lucy
2. Graveyard Theme
3. Snoopy and the Leaf/Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair)
4. The Great Pumpkin Waltz
5. Linus and Lucy (Reprise)
6. Charlie Brown Theme/Happy Linus
7. The Great Pumpkin Waltz (Reprise)
8. The Red Baron/Military Drum March
9. The Great Pumpkin Waltz (2nd Reprise)
10. Trick or Treat
11. Fanfare/Breathless/Trick or Treat (Reprise)
12. Charlie Brown Theme (Reprise)
13. Breathless
14. It's a Long Way to Tipperary/There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding/Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag/Roses of Picardy
15. Trick or Treat (2nd Reprise)
16. Linus and Lucy (2nd Reprise)
17. Charlie Brown Theme (2nd Reprise)

It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown can be pre-ordered via Amazon or the Craft Recordings Web Store, or copies will be available October 5 at your local indie record store.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Something to devour from Omnivore

Big news, folks.

Omnivore Recordings — a terrific prestige label, with an impressive catalog — will release two Vince Guaraldi items on July 6: The Complete Warner Bros.–Seven Arts Recordings (encompassing Vince’s three Warner Bros.-Seven Arts albums: Oh, Good Grief!, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville), as a two-CD set with four previously unreleased bonus tracks; and the classic Oh, Good Grief! album, on translucent red vinyl.

Check out this cool trailer.

Got your attention with the phrase “bonus tracks,” right?

It's true. The double-CD package includes never-heard-before covers of Bacharach/David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and the gospel hit “Oh, Happy Day,” along with a Guaraldi original titled “The Share Croppers Daughter” and an alternate take of “The Beat Goes On.”

Quoting now from Omnivore's press release:

Many people got to know Guaraldi through his 1963 Grammy Award-winning song, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” or via Sounds Orchestral’s Top 10 cover of it two years later. Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s version while working on a Peanuts documentary; he contacted the pianist and asked him to score that project. Although Mendelson wasn’t able to sell that documentary to network television, he and Guaraldi subsequently reunited for what became the first Peanuts television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was a match made in TV and musical history. With songs like “Linus and Lucy,” the show was a hit, and for more than five decades, not a holiday season went by without an airing. So potent and successful was the Peanuts/Guaraldi combination that the jazz pianist went on to score a total of 15 Peanuts television specials, a 1969 documentary and the debut feature film that same year.

In 1968, Vince made a label switch from his long-time home, Fantasy Records, to Warner Bros. Records. For his inaugural album, Oh, Good Grief!, he decided to re-interpret his Peanuts classics. In addition to the instantly recognizable Guaraldi sound of piano, bass and drums, he added electric guitar and electric harpsichord to the mix. The record was a smash hit.

For its 50th anniversary, Oh, Good Grief! will be presented by Omnivore Recordings the way the world first heard it: as stated on the original release’s back cover, “on shiny black vinyl.” (Well, actually, this special edition is “on shiny red vinyl.”) Mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed at world-class record-pressing plant RTI, this timeless album never has sounded better. 

Following Oh, Good Grief!,1969’s The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi lived up to its title and found the pianist experimenting: There’s a large string section, Guaraldi’s first recorded vocals (covering the singer/songwriter Tim Hardin), and original compositions that could be described as lengthy rock jams. 

Guaraldi’s last album for the label and final-ever album, 1970’s Alma-Ville, ranks among his best-ever releases. Six of the nine songs on this “return to jazz” project were Guaraldi originals; the set was recorded with several different ensembles. Besides the original compositions, Alma-Ville finds Guaraldi covering the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” which had become a staple of his live performances; Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor”; and the Michel Legrand/Norman Gimbel song “Watch What Happens.”

Guaraldi’s three albums for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts have been produced for this reissue by Grammy Award-winning Omnivore, Cheryl Pawelski; and remastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer, Michael Graves (who, under his Osiris Studios banner, also handled remastering for earlier Guaraldi digital releases such as Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus and Oaxaca)The new liner notes are written by your humble biographer/blogger.

Orders can be made directly from Omnivore.

Mark your calendars: July 6 will be a big day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mass enjoyment

Music remains fresh and vibrant as long as it continues to be presented for public appreciation.

To that end, I'm delighted to learn that Guaraldi's Jazz Mass will be presented again this weekend: 6 to 7:15 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, 35 S. Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 18701 (570-825-6653).

The service will be hosted by Bill Carter and the Presbybop Quartet. The musicians will include Carter (piano), Mike Carbone (flute), Joe Michaels (bass) and Tyler Dempsey (drums), along with the St. Stephen's choir, under the direction of Mark Laubach.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that Carter was involved with both of the 50th anniversary presentations of Guaraldi's Mass, which took place during the late summer of 2015. Plenty of further details about those events can be found here and here.

Pennsylvania residents -- and anybody close enough to participate —- are encouraged to join Carter and Presbybop, as they present  Guaraldi's Jazz Mass in this extraordinary setting. Written six months before his soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Mass is a highly melodic composition, and the first jazz mass ever performed as part of an American church service.

It debuted May 21, 1965, at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. The music was recorded, but never written down. To mark the Mass' aforementioned 50th anniversary, Carter transcribed the music from original and unreleased recordings.

He remains just as excited today, as he was three years ago.

"We're looking forward to presenting Guaraldi's little-known Mass once again, in a worship setting," he said. "The invitation came from internationally known organist and church musician Mark Laubach. His parish is celebrating its 200th anniversary, and the church council wanted to do something unusual. So the church choir will sing 'Missa Marialis' from the old red Episcopalian hymnal, and Presbybop will supply Guaraldi's accompaniment.

"As I've been working through the material once again, I'm struck anew by its brilliance. Guaraldi's settings are quite melodic, and the harmonies are beguiling. The outstanding St. Stephen's choir is thrilled to sing this wonderful music, and I'm reminded of how important it is to keep this music in the air. 

"What a privilege this is!"

This is a rare opportunity to hear Guaraldi's composition in a worship setting similar to that where it first was conceived. All involved are pleased to offer this event during the 200th anniversary year of St. Stephen's.

For additional information, visit Presbybop or St. Stephen's Episcopal Pro-Cathedral.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Concerto-izing, Episode 2

Work on the newly commissioned Peanuts Concerto has proceeded smoothly, and Dick Tunney has kindly paused on occasion, in order to keep us up to date. (Read about the genesis of this project here.)

When last Dick checked in, he reported being “almost finished” with the second (Christmas) movement. “I did finish the piano portion, and sent it to Jeffrey [Biegel],” he said. “Lots of exclamation points and thumbs up from him.”

As of this moment, the piece’s premiere is scheduled for March 2019, “but there could well be a prior performance,” Dick adds, “depending on when the work is completed and ready for the stage.”

I was curious about his decision to begin with the middle movement (having naively assumed that one works on such a project from start to finish). He kindly sent a marvelously detailed reply, and I’ll turn the rest of this post over to him:


I began with this movement because I’m most familiar with the songs in the Christmas special. As I get to the end of this concerto, there will be times when I’ll be slogging my way through, and I never want to be doing that at the beginning of a project. Pace and momentum tend to keep my interest up; once I get a good bit of a piece under my belt, it’s always nice to look back and see the progress made.  

The plan to have a Christmas movement was there from the beginning, and building it to be a pull-out/stand-alone movement also was present from the outset. Placing it in the middle of the concerto probably is 90% in stone at this point, but I’m not ready for the cement to harden on that idea.  

The previous concerto that I did stayed pretty closely to typical concert form for a three-movement work: fast/slow/fast. As it stands right now, the Christmas movement isn’t exclusively slow. The anchor (of course!) is “Linus and Lucy,” which will appear in some form or fashion as a theme — or theme fragment — in each of the three movements.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Vince in a symphony hall!

This should be a very exciting year for Guaraldi fans.

Nashville-based musician, composer and arranger Dick Tunney has been commissioned to create what is being dubbed a Peanuts Concerto: an ambitious work that will morph Guaraldi’s most recognizable themes into a symphonic fantasy for solo piano and orchestra.

Jeffrey Biegel
The project was spearheaded by Tunney’s colleague Jeffrey Biegel, a celebrated New York-based pianist/composer whose accomplishments and accolades would tax even the most encyclopedic biographer.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Tunney notes, during a recent chat, “an off-the-charts, crazy-good Juilliard artist. When he gets something under his hands, he owns it.”

“I read an interview with Charles Schulz’s son Craig, back in 2013 or so,” Biegel explains, picking up the narrative. “Craig was struck by something that worried his father, who at one point wondered aloud, ‘Do you think they’ll remember me?’

“Well, in his case, of course. But the thing is, everything you’ve done, when you pass, it’s over. People will think less about you, and what you’ve done, if you’re not around any more. I sent Craig an email, and told him that really hit home, because not only should Schulz and Peanuts go on, but what about the music? Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts music is either locked up in those specials for eternity, or they’re only heard in orchestral versions usually adapted from the Christmas special.

“There’s not a new performance work at all, based on Guaraldi’s Peanuts music ... and certainly not a concerto for piano and orchestra. So I’ve been commissioned to take the music from those TV specials, and place them into a musical work that orchestras can book and present to audiences.”

Biegel has developed an artistic business model that has been successful for 20 years: He initiates projects with composers; raises all the money from donors and orchestras, to pay the composer to write a concerto for him; and then he (Biegel) gets to play it with the orchestras involved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Looking back Grace-fully

Rough drafts — whether of music, artworks or written material — generally deserve to be seen only by their creators. After all, the artist in question wishes to put the best foot forward, and it’s hardly fair to view warts-and-all preliminary efforts.

(Which is why, just in passing, I had absolutely no interest in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, when released in July 2015. Ample evidence existed, prior to publication, that it was an early draft of what eventually blossomed into To Kill a Mockingbird ... despite the efforts of opportunists who insisted, quite falsely, that it was a wholly different “lost novel.”)

All this notwithstanding, exceptions crop up every once in awhile; what follows is one of them.

Way back in the day, John Leydecker was one of many youthful members of the St. Paul’s Church choir, which rehearsed extensively with Guaraldi and later performed the debut of his Jazz Mass at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, on May 21, 1965. John’s mother Mary was a part-time journalist; several months after that event, she wrote an informative article about Guaraldi, the choir and the evolution and presentation of the Mass. Her article — and numerous photos — were submitted to both The Episcopalian (a monthly church journal published between April 1960 and March 1990) and the Marin Daily Independent Journal. If the piece appeared in the former, I’ve not yet been able to track it down; it did, however, get published in the latter on October 23, 1965.

What appeared in the Journal, however, is significantly different than Mary Leydecker’s original draft: something I’m able to state with certainty, since John kindly provided a copy of the original typewritten manuscript. It’s much more laid-back and conversational than the Journal version, and opens a charming window into those historic events.

Mary Leydecker’s version appears here, for the first time ever; it’s followed by PDFs of the quite opulent Journal spread (with lots and lots of photos ... a generous use of space that we simply don’t see in newspapers any more).

John also shared some additional photos that you’ll find below, all published for the first time.



By Mary Leydecker

The little jazz musician peered over the grand piano through a haze of smoke. He was dressed in an old sweater, jeans and tennis shoes. His mustache and sideburns almost covered the part of his face not hidden by immense dark glasses. Nearby a bass player leaned on his instrument, and a drummer grinned as there was a pause in the rehearsal.

However, these three were not in their native habitat of nightclubs or recording studios, but in a large wood-paneled music room of a suburban Episcopal church; sharing the room with them were rows and rows of bright-faced children, who followed intently the instructions of their choir director, a young man in a sweat shirt with a whistle hanging from his neck.

This scene was repeated many times this year, as this group of people of many backgrounds gathered to prepare a “new setting for the Holy Communion.” The product of their labors has been recorded and is now a nationwide success under the label Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral.

The story of how this unusual musical undertaking came into being goes back many months. As Grace Cathedral in San Francisco was nearing completion of its building program, a committee was appointed to mark the occasion with a series of special events. The Rev. Charles Gompertz, a young priest who was at that time curate of a suburban parish, was one of the members. When another committee member suggested a “holy hootenanny” for the young people of the diocese, Father Gompertz presented a different idea.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The magic — and music — of carriage returns

Life is full of charming surprises.

The Los Angeles Times runs an annual compilation of overlooked films that remained “Under the Radar” during the previous 12 months. Eight critics selected five titles each this year: Some lists are all over the genre map, while others — such as that from animation historian Charles Solomon — are devoted entirely to a given specialty.

The overarching principle is apt: As a film critic myself, I’m far more aware of indie and art house releases than most folks ... but more than half of these 40 titles were new to me. And quite a few piqued my interest.

One did so immediately: California Typewriter, a documentary by director Doug Nichol, which critic Gary Goldstein insists was “egregiously denied a place on this season’s documentary Oscar shortlist.” I read the article the day it was published — Thursday, December 28 — and immediately checked our streaming options. Lo and behold, its available via Amazon Video (and iTunes), and we watched it that very evening.

Isn’t the modern world amazing? In times past, you’d never even find out about most documentaries, let alone have any opportunity to view them. And now they’re just a few clicks away.


Nichol’s film is indeed delightful. The narrative is split between two topics: the Berkeley, California, store that gives the film its title, which has provided service and sales for all makes and models of typewriters, fax machines, calculators and the like since 1949, and which has been run since 1981 by Herbert L. Permillion III; and affectionate — and often droll — visits with typewriter collectors and purists such as musician John Mayer, playwright Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize-winning author/historian David McCullough, and artist/sculptor Jeremy Mayer.

Watching Tom Hanks dither over his massive collection, while trying to decide upon just one “desert island typewriter,” is a hoot and a half.

It also pays to be one of Hanks’ good friends. When somebody expresses genuine affection for one of the humble, old-school machines, Hanks makes it a gift. With the proviso that the recipient must use it, for old-school correspondence.

These individuals also eulogize the “experience” of their beloved typewriters, insisting that they’re essential to the artistic process, in a way that computers, laptops, tablets — and so forth — cannot match. (Except for Jeremy Mayer, the outlier, who cannibalizes typewriters in order to re-purpose the components into assemblages that range from life-size small birds to life-size human figures. With results that demand to be seen.)

You’re undoubtedly wondering what this brief film review is doing in a blog devoted to Vince Guaraldi.


So there we were, Constant Companion and I, thoroughly enjoying this film and its collection of colorful on-camera subjects, along with Nichol’s savvy use of background music: Cy Coleman’s cover of “Playboy’s Theme,” Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies,” Bill Evans’ iconic reading of “Stolen Moments,” and even a selection by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (for real).

And, suddenly — during one of the Berkeley visits to Herb’s store — we heard the gentle and unmistakable melody of Guaraldi’s “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” from his Warner Bros. album Oh, Good Grief!

Nor was that all. Somewhat later, as Herb and his adult daughters — Carmen and Candace — decorated their store for the holidays, Nichol inserted Guaraldi’s instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here,” from his Charlie Brown Christmas score.

And that’s why you’re reading these words.

So: Aside from quality filmmaking chops, Nichol obviously has excellent taste in music.

I highly recommend this little film ... and not merely for the opportunity to hear some well-placed Guaraldi excerpts. The film is a thoroughly engaging — and informative — eulogy for a technological workhorse whose day, alas, has come and gone. Likely for good. (But not entirely. Thankfully.)